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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Strength

People look down on me and pretend that I don’t know that they do it. I can never talk to them, not really; I can never say anything to them about things of importance, things like the nature of good and evil; how these things we take for granted are merely imposters for the reality we can never know. If I make an attempt to tell anyone these things a look of befuddlement crosses their face; I know I have made a mistake.
Sadness and pleasure are symptomatic of my depraved nature; joy and anger cause me to go off course; love and hatred are a failing of my virtue. So it is that I find being free of joy and sorrow is achieving excellence; focusing my unchanging mind absolves me of the desires of pleasure and anger; to be conscious of no opposition allows love and hate to fall away. I find simplicity where there is no mingling of thought. I find the strength of purity where my spirit is unimpaired. When I take no action I engage in a constant manifestation of spontaneity.
By leaving the middle way and following the promptings of my mind I forsake my nature by invalidating the simplicity of my spirit and letting go of the essence of resting quietly in the world. By continually adding to my knowledge I grow perplexed and disordered in all things as my problems become increasingly more numerous until my mind drowns in multiplicity. By being still, by waiting patiently, by acting without any trace I rectify myself bringing my strength back to center.
My uncle was a priest; he spoke to everyone as though he knew all about good and evil. At the funeral people pretended they liked him but they talked about him behind my back, just loudly enough that I could hear. They said how the fire had sent him to hell. I remember being embarrassed for my uncle but neither did I speak up in his defense. In those days I always seemed outnumbered. I hadn’t the strength to oppose them.
Throughout my young life my uncle made a special point of telling me that I would go to hell for my sins. He had an enormous portrait in his office on the wall behind his desk of a man crossing a river in a boat that seemed to be sailing toward an island, only it wasn’t a man and it wasn’t a real river. The boat was full of shadowy souls on their way to hell; the boatman was a wraith enshrouded in hate, the river was full of flames that didn’t consume what they burned; they just blazed on and on, an eternal torment.
Being a priest my uncle had no children of his own. My mother explained how her brother had sacrificed such worldly things such as a wife and a family for his love of God. I remember him as being much older than my mother but as a boy anyone older than forty seemed as ancient as Methuselah to me.


I remember how he called me into that office one day after my mother informed her older brother of another of my endless parade of transgressions. He sat like a black mountain in a huge leather-bound chair behind his desk sternly lecturing me on the virtues of goodness. Sitting there on my hard wooden stool feeling small and the strength of God descending upon me all I wanted to do was to stare at the portrait that framed my uncle’s face. My eyes kept straying to it until I was chastised for not paying sufficient attention to his admonitions.
The portrait burned up along with my uncle and that old church of his when it caught on fire one cold January day; I remember how my mother had insisted on making me go with her to church that day. I thought it was a day like any other.
When we got close to the church we found the road was blocked by a fire truck. People were standing everywhere, watching. My mother parked and we got out of the car so we could see what had happened too. I saw flames pouring from the church windows; I saw how the firefighters drenched in sweat all had icicles hanging from their mustaches and eye brows; the people watching the fire watched in silence as if they feared drawing the boatman’s wrath as he swirled into the air in a haze of wrath and hate, smoke and soot.
I wondered for a long time if it was the portrait itself that caused the fire. I was young yet and impressionable. One day I recall how I had entered my uncle’s office alone. Standing before it I remember how detailed the picture was and how the deeper I gazed into it the more alive that portrait became. I thought how the flaming river might well have crept into the wall upon which it hung.
As a child I was of the habit of going to the church alone, knowing the doors were always unlocked. Rummaging through the dungeon that served as a basement I discovered a gang of gargoyles lurking in the darkness. Though hideous to behold I couldn’t take my eyes from them. They were grimed in dust and spidered in cobwebs as if hidden there centuries ago, held against their will until the day someone like me came along to set them free. As I stood there watching the church burn I wondered if the gargoyles would survive. I knew my uncle would not.
I remember how the policemen standing nearby had to hold my mother to keep her from bolting with all her strength into that church to save her brother. Later she cried for him, endless rivers of tears that seemed to belie the distance I always sensed between them; I missed my uncle too and wept for him along with my mother but I was not unhappy when that portrait had turned back into the ash from which it sprang.
Months later when springtime arrived and the robins were singing in the treetops I ventured into the charred ruins of what had been my uncle’s church finding my way to the dungeon where the gargoyles slept. They were cracked by the heat of the fire; most of them were broken into many pieces. I gathered up two of the unbroken ones and although I had no idea why I wanted them I carried them home, wrapping them in cloth and hiding them in the attic where I kept my other treasures. Many decades later, though I have lost all my friends, nearly all my family, and every one of my lovers, those gargoyles have followed me across the years like demented angels panting at my door waiting to come in.
My uncle was a leader of men; through guiding the shadowy souls in the boat by his force of wisdom he made sure his congregation sought out the isle of heaven instead of landing in the smoldering pit of hell. He couldn’t save himself. Being a master of myself I go beyond heaven and hell to seek out the mystery.
To be a leader of others requires the force of wisdom. To master myself requires the strength of enlightenment. Trembling and in solitude I remain where I am, seeking the restoration of my true nature. Nothing more is needed for my enjoyment.
When I know I have enough I am rich. By staying where I am I endure. By persevering I cultivate my willpower.

By being eternally present I die and yet I do not perish.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Failing

My love affair began decades ago. Though born and raised in the flatlands of the Midwest I’d been drawn to the Rocky Mountains ever since I learned of their existence. When I was still a boy leaving my home and family behind I journeyed deep into forested peaks not knowing what I would find.
I discovered love. I walked on uncharted paths. I worshiped the high places. I adored the low valleys. When I came home from my travels I found adulation in the eyes of those to whom I told my stories. I inspired others by my tales of mad adventures.
To my horror they sought out the unknown even though I told them they were not ready for what they would find there. Most of them died in the wilderness failing to perceive their danger until too late. Some of them returned to curse me for not having warned them more strenuously. A very few of them looked at me and nodded.
Like the mountains I thought love was unbreakable. I thought love was something apart from me; I thought I fell into love, like it was there waiting for me. Because I did not understand the nature of the universe I failed to understand the nature of love.
The universe is relative and subjective. What do I mean when I say the universe is relative and subjective? I mean that all time and space are relative to the observer of that particular time and space. By failing to see the universe is relative and subjective I see the universe starting with objects, not with the perception of them.
I fail to fathom the mystery.
By offering the mystery I bring others back to what they have lost. Living in obscurity I am manifest. By taking care with small things I overcome calamity. My generous largeness cannot be kept in obscurity. My courtesy keeps shame at bay. By knowing the mystery I set order to confusion before it happens. In this way trouble is overcome before it starts.
By my gravity and reverence I become stronger every day; by indifference and want of restraint deterioration sets in. Since I never know when my death will find me I cannot afford to allow myself any irregularity even for one day lest I die in dishonor. Those without honor are familiar and insolent. By being so they may bring death upon themselves yet they give it no thought.
There is a perfect path, the righteous path, and the calculated path. Those who see the perfect path naturally and easily own it; the wise practice righteousness for the advantage which it brings; those who fear being found guilty of transgression practice it by constraint.
Humanity is like a heavy vessel and a long road. If I try to lift the vessel I cannot sustain its weight; should I try to travel the road I fail to accomplish the distance. There is nothing that has so many different degrees as humanity; should I nerve myself to it I find it a difficult task. If I measure humanity with the scale of righteousness I find it difficult to discover what I seek. When I look at people and compare them with one another I know who among them are more worthy.
By never giving up the way, by forgetting the winter of my age and taking no thought that the years ahead will be insufficient to the task, by urging myself on with earnestness from day to day, I only give up when I sink into death.
These days in speaking I reflect on what might be the end of my words and examine whether there may not be some error in my conduct. By being circumspect in all I say while keeping reverence in my heart I am unstained in my ways.
When I have doubts and perplexities I lead others astray. By not discharging my duties others in my purview groan beneath their load. By dealing reverently with infliction of punishment I spread my lessons wide. By taking care I set examples for others and so I am treated with respect. I do not consult with others before acting. In this fashion I never by little counsels fail at great enterprises.
If I act I defeat my own purpose. If I grasp I am lost already. By not acting I am never defeated. The small is easily scattered; by not grasping I never lose it. The brittle is easily shattered; by not holding on too tightly I never break it. I do not cling to ideas; in this way new ideas continually arise.
This is the way of the mystery.
A great tree wider than my embrace begins as a tiny seed. A skyscraper a quarter mile high begins with a pile of dirt. A journey of ten thousand miles begins by taking a single step outside my door.
Once while walking deep in the mountains I suffered a broken ankle by taking a fall on a slippery rock. Alone and in pain I struggled mightily expending my strength when I should have been conserving it. Just when I felt my will ebbing away like a spring drying up I saw the buzzards circling above where I lay waiting to feast on my rotting body. Without understanding it I spotted something red flickering through the trees. It was my truck. I had made it back to camp without realizing it.
People usually fail right when they stand on the edge of success. So now I take as much care at the end of my journey as at the beginning; in this way I never fail. I seek freedom from desire so I do not collect precious things.
By knowing the mystery peace is easily maintained. By allowing everything to find its own nature I practice non-action.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Space Between

When everything gets to be too much I run away; I am a coward; I cannot face my demons head-on. Instead I seek out the space between the desires that drive my life and the mystery that is the foundation of experience. Each time I find myself overwhelmed by the world I seem to find my way into the mountains where the air is hard to breathe and my dreams are surreal; they are filled with a potency they lack in the lowlands.
Deep in the mountains day breaks very early. Everything is quiet. A late January dawn comes stepping so quietly over the mountains that they are barely visible above the nascent pines. I don’t quite know what it is that wakes me... the chill of the air, perhaps, or the crack of stone falling from on high.
Or maybe it is the mystery.
I crawl from my bedroll intending to kindle a fire to brew coffee but first I stop. I stand without thought drinking in the morning. The breeze rattling through the trees is speaking in tongues. Though I listen long I cannot decipher its message. The wind has no interest in me. It does not care if I am here or not here. The days are constantly being reborn without any help from me.
I am alone. I have walked four days to reach this spot; I have not seen anyone else during my journey. Hunting season is over so like every year at this time the forest seems abandoned. I know I have never been so far away from another human being. If only I could I would go even farther until no one remembered my name or that I ever existed at all. I would dream a dream of myself and know I was dreaming.
I would become as disinterested as the mystery.
The mystery that comes before experience is like the crack of dawn deep in the mountains; it is disinterested. It sees these things that I name as that which arises, flourishes a short while, and then all is destroyed. In this way experience is constantly renewed and yet it is never exhausted.
I’ve known countless people in my life. Each has left an indelible mark upon me. Some of these people were takers who would never think of giving; others were givers who never thought of taking; a few neither gave nor took. Were I more like the mystery I would inhabit the space between this giving and that taking.
By attempting to injure others I am injured in return. By trying to please others I am merely adding fire to fire and water to water. There is no end to these signs of deferral. By entering the space between these two I bend to no one and yet I accept the world in all its suffering. I have heard of knowledge of the wise. I have not-heard of knowledge of the unwise.
In all manner of human discourse there are two cautionary considerations: one is what is naturally right while the other is the conviction of what is right. A child discovers duty in the love of the parent; a follower finds their obligation in serving the leader. When the child and the follower, the parent and the leader, do what they cannot but do virtue enters in the space between these two.
In all things this is so; people are at first sincere but always end by becoming rude. In the beginning things are treated as trivial but as the end nears these matters assume great proportions. Hasty vengeful thoughts arise and no one knows why. By keeping a reference to unavoidable obligations the mind finds enjoyment in the circumstance of position. The best thing is to be ready to sacrifice oneself; this is the most difficult of my teachings and the most far-reaching.
I am disinterested. I witness people being born, flourishing a short while, and then passing back to the mystery from which we all both move away from and back toward. In this way this gathering of lovers is constantly renewed and yet it is never wearied.
As I walk the rocky paths high in the mountains I recall a time when I held onto hope even when everything seemed hopeless. I could think of no reason to expect anything better so I quit expecting anything. I took a breath and then another. In my defeat I found victory. In my every victory I am defeated.
The space between that which I name and the mystery of the nameless is a breath, nothing more; it is merely an inhalation followed by the exhalation, a heart skipping a beat, the whispering grass under the rustling serpent meandering through the weeds.
The shapes of these things change but their forms remain. If this were not so I would wander like a new-born baby full of wonder and empty of regret.
Long speeches weary the listeners. By keeping to the center I avoid the extremes.
This is the way of the universe.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Knowing Myself

There is always someone trying to make me feel inferior by offering ways for me to improve. Of course they do this without any expense to themselves. I call it ego-climbing but there is plenty of just plain meanness involved too.
I suppose they are mad about something though I can never be sure of what. I have heard it said that there are places in the world where living in poverty still offers a sense of dignity. But I have learned living here if you are poor, you are just poor. If you are rich you are somebody. If you are poor you are nobody.
At one time I found myself down and out, no food in my belly and no place to lay my head. I saw a fine house up ahead of me and thinking surely these people could spare a bite and a bed in exchange for a bit of work I knocked upon the door. No one answered and so I knocked again. An angry man answered telling me while pointing a shot gun in my face to be on my way before he called the police to have me arrested for vagrancy and trespassing.
I wandered on. The night grew darker and the threat of rain became real. I saw a tiny shack hidden in the weeds with one dim light filtering through a filthy windowpane. I knew these people would have nothing to spare but in my misery I hoped perhaps they might let me spend the night under the overhang that served them as a porch and so keep out of the coming storm.
Before I could knock the door opened. A ragged man stood there. He seemed happy to see me, as if he’d been expecting someone but couldn’t be sure who and now that I had arrived he was glad to see it was me. He invited me in and fed me a meal of fine soup and freshly baked bread. When I went to roll out my bedroll on the floor he provided me with an air mattress to make it all the more comfortable.
In the morning he fed me a good breakfast of pancakes and real maple syrup he was proud to say he had collected and boiled down himself. Afterwards he gave me a ride out to the Interstate highway in an old rickety pickup truck with bald tires and a loud muffler. Before we parted he pressed a five dollar bill into my hand saying that I had more need of it than he.
I never saw that man again but I hold his kindness in my heart.
I sit quietly to empty myself of all thought. My mind becomes still as a pond reflecting the sky. Like the quiet mountain meadow watching the coming and going of days I watch as these thoughts arise, flourish, and pass away and then return once more. They grow and flourish and return to the source.
I ply the depths of the water and emerge intact; I walk over hot coals without burns; I climb the highest of heights without fear. How do I attain this state? It is not to be described as skill or daring; by maintaining perfect breath I am without form and so beyond the capability of being transformed. I lie concealed in the clue which has no end and so nothing can injure me.
Returning to the source of experience is stillness. This is not the way of knowledge but of insight. The source of experience is the unchanging mystery. Understanding its constancy is insight. Not realizing its constancy will lead to disaster.
By opening my mind my heart is opened as well. With an open heart I act royally. By being royal I obtain the divine. By being divine I am at one with the mystery. Being one with the mystery is eternal. For though my body will one day die, the mystery will never pass away.